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Girls in Movies, Monster and Otherwise

I think I'm starting to come up with my own way of evaluating movies, which starts with the Bechdel Test (thanks, Alison!), uses a variation on[personal profile] hello_spikey's "man candy" criteria, and adds a few more items. It doesn't necessarily correlate with how much I like a film. It isn't an indication of overall quality. It's very individual, and if a movie doesn't have at least five of these things, it's probably not a movie that I'm going to be excited about seeing:

1. Does it pass the Bechdel Test? 1 point
2. Does it show positive female relationships? 1 point
3. Does it show female characters being smart? 1 point
4. Does it show female characters being awesome AND kind? 1 point
5. Are there any gratuitous female gaze shots of scantily clad pretty men? 1 point
6. Was there any non-bashing gay content? 1 point
7. Was I at any point pleasantly surprised or amused? 1 point

I like genre, but I'm not a fan of the straight-up horror movie genre. However there are some movies with those elements that strike my fancy. In the past week I've seen Kick Ass 2 which is about one kind of horror, and Warm Bodies, which is about an entirely different kind. I have thoughts. They aren't deep, but a few of them are superficially spoilery. My evaluations below.

Warm Bodies was pretty much great, much to my surprise. It's the cutest zombie apocalypse story ever! It's got this lovely way of approaching zombieism as equivalent to the state of being an adolescent: tongue-tied, awkward, smelly, confused. The voice over is absolutely crucial and makes for lovely, understated comedy. There is one gruesome scene toward the beginning, but after that it's all action, friendship, light comedy, and even lighter romance. Just in case you didn't figure out what story you're watching, there's a balcony scene that drives the point home. It might pass the Bechdel test, but only just, since 80% of the film is dialog free. Shows positive female relationships and smart girls being awesome and kind. No real man candy (though there was one squandered opportunity), no gay content, but very funny and unexpected. 5 points

Kick Ass 2 is absolutely ridiculous. That's not the worst thing a film can be, IMO. But this movie that is NOT for everybody. Its approach to violence is hyper, which for some people is cartoonish and for others is incredibly offensive. Perhaps both. You know yourself. I don't mind it, and worship Hit Girl, in all her incarnations, but be aware that this is a movie that makes neither apology nor sense. It does pass the Bechdel Test, in spades, but only because of the many female antagonists of both the "super hero" and "high school" variety. DOES NOT show positive female relationships but DOES show smart girls being awesome, and even somewhat kind at times. At one point the titular character takes off his shirt, at which point we overheard the girls behind us saying, "gawd DAMN" and "yessssss", so man candy points all around. Funny (in the blackest sense) and one extremely inoffensive and forgettable gay character for half marks. 5-1/2 points

I just got back from my annual Gal's Weekend with a bunch of pals from college, for which I am the designated film fest curator. That means that I show up with a dozen choices and the group whittles it down to maybe two for Saturday night viewing. It came down to Bride & Prejudice and Whip It this year.

Bride & Prejudice, no surprise, follows a familiar and beloved story, plus so very pretty! It's not my favorite adaptation or anything, and that's down to an uninspiring Darcy, though Bel Raj (Bingley) and his sister have moxie. I'm not positive that it actually passes the Bechdel test, because almost all the conversations are about marriage in some way or another, which means they are pretty much about men. There are loads of positive female relationships, though, and the female characters are probably smart, though not one of them talks about their career or anything. I'm not sure that having the Lizzie character, Lalita, defending India in very general terms really counts. There is definite kindness in places though, and a few strokes of awesome. There is a bit of man candy, but also a blatant anti-candy moment, which I sort of want to give extra credit for, even if it's really, really unattractive. I mean, c'mon, a guy in an American flag g-string? It shows chutzpah, at least. Minimal violence. Gay content is limited to Indian drag queens, but they are fabulous, if unnamed, so full marks. Not all that surprising, except visually, but that counts. 5 points

Whip It is a delightful trifle about alt-roller derby. It's directed by Drew Barrymore, who knows how to have a good time. My favorite bit is when the protagonist, Bliss, is doing a bit of shopping and the local roller derby girls skate in to drop off some fliers while the standard "love theme" music plays in the background. That's the main point. She falls in love. With an activity that she can do with awesome women. It's brilliant. The intervening slings and arrows are the standard stuff, but the roller derby parts are the heart of it all. It totally owns the Bechdel Test, shows many, many positive female relationships, has smart girls, awesome girls, girls who climb on rocks. Kindness galore, along with a bit of bad behavior for spice. Not as much man candy as there could have been, but their coach wears cut off jean shorts everywhere, so I'll give half marks. Any gay content was too subtle for me to pick up on, which makes it far too subtle. Sport-type violence. It was funny and pleasantly surprising at every lap around the track. 5-1/2 points

I was hoping to get the gals to watch alien invasion tale Attack the Block, which was possibly my favorite movie last year, but the hostess has even less stomach for horror/monster/scary movies than I, so it was not to be. Too bad, because if there was ever a film that I didn't not think would meet my criteria, it was this one, and I can admit I was wrong. It delivers on all counts except for gay content. The thing I like best is the way the viewer's loyalties switch every few minutes, and you have no idea who you are going to be rooting for until the very end. Teenaged boys are the main protagonists, and very well-drawn, but the teenaged girls they hang with are so accurate that I am in awe. The man candy was scant, though there some bulging biceps and toward the end one of the characters takes off his fuzzy hat. All the teenaged girls I know swoon at that point, so it might as well be a strip tease. There's lots of monster-movie violence and gore, though it's telegraphed well enough that you can cover your eyes in time, I think. Needless to say, funny and surprising. 6 points

This entry was originally posted at http://rebcake.dreamwidth.org/31898.html. Please comment here or there using OpenID.



( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 26th, 2013 11:09 pm (UTC)
I looooooved warm bodies!!!!!
Aug. 26th, 2013 11:19 pm (UTC)
Adorable, isn't it? McDiva and I kept high-fiving one another. Warm and fuzzy zombie flick! Yay!
Aug. 26th, 2013 11:23 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid I was underwhelmed by Warm Bodies. It was cute, though.

Do any films meet all of your criteria? Because I want to make sure I've seen them! :-)
Aug. 26th, 2013 11:41 pm (UTC)
Possibly "D.E.B.S", although I suspect it's a bit thin with the man candy, alas. "Down With Love" definitely fits the bill, but many people find it too something. I'm not sure what they object to, as it's a perfect spoof of the source material — those Rock Hudson, Doris Day comedies. Way funnier than "Mad Men", IMO.

Another that comes close is "Soapdish", though I can't remember if there's any truly positive gay content. There's an obscure 2005 Dutch musical that fits all the criteria. It's called, "Yes Nurse! No Nurse!" and it's a candy-colored joy. I'm no expert, but I get the feeling that it's an homage/update to a beloved Dutch TV show from the '60s about a household full of zany characters with a grumpy next door neighbor. It's very silly and a joy. And the scantily clad man candy is completely separate from the gay content, which isn't always the case in the films I like. :-P

Aug. 27th, 2013 02:43 am (UTC)
I have not seen any of those, though I have heard good things about Down With Love.

Way funnier than "Mad Men", IMO.
It doesn't take much to be funnier than Mad Men, really. ;-)
Aug. 27th, 2013 04:02 am (UTC)
I loved "Down With Love" from the first. I saw it four times while it was in the theatres. I am completely biased, no surprise, as it fits all my criteria. It is, however, very stylized, which puts some people off. You are under no obligation to share my squee.

McDiva reminded me that "But I'm a Cheerleader" also qualifies on all counts. *pom poms* It's a very broad comedy, also not to all tastes.
Aug. 27th, 2013 04:05 am (UTC)
Comedies are not my thing, in general - but there are exceptions. :-)
Aug. 27th, 2013 04:22 am (UTC)
Whereas, I am all about the comedies. Though what is funny varies widely from person to person, and there are countless comedies that I find terribly trying. Perhaps the better description for "Cheerleader" would be "campy". Yes, I think so. In fact, pretty much every film that meets all six criteria falls under the category of "camp". Some kind filmmaker out there should remedy that.

Edited at 2013-08-27 04:24 am (UTC)
Aug. 27th, 2013 04:52 am (UTC)
Yeah, camp is really not my thing. No wonder I have not seen any movies that have met these elusive criteria!
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 27th, 2013 04:05 am (UTC)
I had heard of it, as the director is buddies with the "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" crew, and I adore those, too. But I wasn't expecting it to be so well-written. I watch it with subtitles because I don't want to miss a syllable of the inventive dialogue.
Aug. 27th, 2013 12:38 am (UTC)
Have you seen Elektra? I saw it recently and was quite surprised (1 point!) by how much I liked it. I mean, it wasn't good, but you have Bechdel test passing galore, positive female relationships (specifically the most important relationship in the film), women being smart, kind, and awesome. I don't think there was any man-candy or gay content, though. Also, its approach to race is... not good. There are a lot of evil Japanese people. Still, it was a very pleasant surprise.

Whip It is just wonderful.
Aug. 27th, 2013 04:12 am (UTC)
I haven't seen "Elektra", but I was a fan of the run of comics back in the 80s. Frank Miller often gives me a pain, because he's such a wing nut and has become really reactionary, but I loved what he did with that character...aside from killing her, I mean. Maybe you can find the trade someplace?

I also stood next to an Elektra cosplayer while we waited for our beverages at Starbucks at ComicCon a couple of years ago, and when the barista called out "Ninja", she shrugged and said, "Not me." That was a good moment.

I'm so happy that you're discovering good comics, but I'm afraid most of my recs are decades out of date. Except that Love & Rockets is still easy to come by and you should check it out!
Aug. 27th, 2013 05:00 am (UTC)
Actually, I took a volume of L&R called "New Stories: Vol. 1" out of the library, and I... kinda hated it. A lot. It was the first half of a story about a bunch of female superheros squabbling with each other and also fighting the villain, who was woman who went crazy due to too much maternal instinct? IDK. I disliked everyone except our newbie superheroine and the veteran superheroine whose mundane identity is the Mexican maid. (I did like that part.)

And then in the middle were these bizarre short pieces that I couldn't see the point of at all, with art that seemed to be throwbacks to the 40s, maybe?

Have you read this volume I'm talking about, by chance? Is it representative of the sort of thing they normally do? Because if so, then L&R is really, really not for me.
Aug. 27th, 2013 03:45 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm. The New Stories are and are not representative. There's 30 years of backstory to the character who is freaking out, for one thing. The more usual stuff from Jaime is the stuff like the maid. It's generally the story of the normal, mostly Mexican-American, people going about their lives — finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Sometimes there is some big world-changing event going on in the background, with the main characters hardly noticing. New Stories is different in that the "usual" character, Angel, is actually thrown into the news-making action. I suppose one thread that is common is the idea that the person who seems entirely unassuming has something amazing within them. It's a real-life thing that has been writ large as the superhero metaphor — nobody really knows what you're capable of and don't expect much from a mild-mannered reporter. L&R only occasionally bothers with actual superheroes, but still shows the things that are hidden within us.

You might try some earlier stories, like "The Death of Speedy" or "Heartbreak Soup". (Gilbert's work got brutalistic over time. I vastly prefer his earlier work.)
Sep. 15th, 2013 07:32 pm (UTC)
Cool, thank you! I will check thse out if I get a chance. I definitely liked the stuff with the maid best out of everything. And I didn't get the sense of all that backstory for the villain - I'm sure that would make a big difference in how it'd read.
Aug. 27th, 2013 03:24 am (UTC)
I really liked Whip It! Granted it's my kind of thing, but it made me want to go out and and join a roller-derby league. Which would so not be in my best interest, or frankly in the roller-derby league's...
Aug. 27th, 2013 04:14 am (UTC)
I was sooooo into roller derby when I was 12! But now, like you, it's armchair jamming for me. But a movie about women enjoying themselves? Really, how could we not love that?

I hope everything is holding steady on your end.
Aug. 27th, 2013 03:34 am (UTC)
That movie did have a pretty uninspiring Darcy.
Aug. 27th, 2013 04:18 am (UTC)
I don't ask for much, you know? A sprightly Lizzie and a sizzling Darcy. Is that so much? Obviously, the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth combo was perfection, but I also enjoy the Greer Garson/Larry Olivier combo for a quick pick-me-up.

Hmmmm, must find a way to see "Austenland".
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )



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